HMMR Podcast Episode 270: Prepare for contact (with Andy Ryland)

In sports like rugby and American football there is the contact paradox. Players are bigger and collision forces continue to increase. However the amount contact allowed in training continues to decrease. So how do we prepare for something we cannot train much? Coach Andy Ryland has a few ideas. On this week’s podcast he discusses the skills involved in contact, and how to best physically prepare for them off the field.

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Notes and quotes

Andy Ryland is USA Football’s senior manager of education and training and has been with USA Football since 2010. He has consulted with programs at every level of competition, and is widely recognized as a foremost expert on skills development in tackling and preparing for contact. As a former Penn State linebacker and member of the US national team in rugby, he also brings the highest level of experience in two extremely physical sports.

  • 0:00 – Introduction
  • 4:00 – Preparing athletes for contact: “If we are honest with ourselves and reverse engineer contact, there are certain elements we will never be able to mimic: the magnitude of speed and forces. But there are a lot of other things we can mimic: spacial awareness, timing, or simply moving another human being.”
  • 9:00 – Grappling as a training method: “One of the things I value most about grappling is proprioception. If I’m in a ruck or tackling I’m not always getting visual information, the information I’m picking up from my opponent is by feel: where is the pressure, what are they trying to do?”
  • 14:45 – Understand the purpose: “If you’re using grappling for conditioning, don’t get too fancy. Use the drills they already know, the ones they are most comfortable with. They will feel more comfortable continuously engaging with it.”
  • 18:15 – Crawling and tumbling: “Reshaping: the ability to find your positions of power after you do something crazy.” “You earn the right to progress: If you can’t control your body, the chances of me letting you control someone else’s body isn’t very high. Show me you can tumble and crawl first.”
  • 23:00 – Building armor, mobility, and force acceptance.
  • 25:00 – Medicine ball training and eccentric strength.
  • 27:30 – Changing nature of play: “With the nature of kids, sports may be the first time a kid is allowed in another person’s personal space.”
  • 30:15 – Planning for contact with the whole staff: “The best way to learn a skill is to do the skill or doing high transfer drills. But if this isn’t allowed it comes to the S&C. If you are a sport coach, talk to the S&C and tell them what movements or traits need to be trained, not what exercises to use.”
  • 37:45 – Examples from Nick and NDHS football.
  • 41:00 – The contact paradox and injuries.
  • 45:30 – Sterile drills: “Many coaches default to stale drills: let’s just tackle this bag. If the drills become so sterile they might require technical proficiency, but they don’t have skills transfer. The shift from technique and skill is similar to shifting from change of direction to agility.”
  • 48:15 – Learning from rugby tackling.
  • 52:45 – Examples of changing constraints and designing better drills: “My company line is that it isn’t good or bad, it just is. Reverse engineer a drill and be honest about what it gives us, both positive and negative.” “A lot of coaches waste their contact minutes on traditional contact or toughness drills, rather than being more surgeon-like. What do we need to get better at? What’s worth investing this time in? What are our weak points?”
  • 59:45 – Progressions: “I can’t stand when coaches use the same tackle drills week 8 as in week 1. Do you mean your players haven’t progressed in 8 weeks and aren’t ready for a new challenge or stimulus? Once our players have shown mastery we need to increase the stress level in speed/space, degrees of freedom, amount of information, etc.”

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